By Michael Davis
WE have no desire to be overly combative here.
But in our view the same cannot be said for those who want to shut down the Northcote public golf course and turn it into parkland.
Clearly not happy with the compromise reached recently, with the course being reduced from 12 to nine holes to make way for public parkland, golf’s naysayers want to stop the game being played after 3pm.
To paraphrase former tennis great, John McEnroe: “You cannot be serious.”
Northcote golfers and the game’s governing body, Golf Australia, thought they had reached a fair compromise after two years of lobbying and negotiation between all parties.
The course in Melbourne’s northern suburbs has been operating for 60 years and according to GA has become ‘something of a bellwether’ in the fight to retain golf on public courses around the country.
GA’s CEO James Sutherland says there is still plenty more to “pan out” at Northcote.
“These types of venues are the heart of golf in this country and they need to be protected,” Sutherland added.
It is feared other public courses in Victoria, including the hugely popular Malvern Valley, east of Melbourne, may also be under threat from the anti-golf lobby.
It is an alarming trend around the nation.
Inside Golf’s Queensland-based editor, David Newbery, says Brisbane’s Victoria Park Golf Course (opened in 1931) has been turned into a 45-hectare public park after closing on June 30, 2021.
All that will remain of the facility is a driving range, putt-putt and function centre. What a shame.
It seems Sydney, too, is losing public courses hand over fist, according to our NSW correspondent Michael Court.
Cammeray Golf Club, opened in 1906 and once regarded as one of Australia’s best nine-hole layouts, has been closed ‘temporarily’ for a Warringah Freeway upgrade. There are plans for a revamped layout ‘sometime in the future’.
Chatswood Golf Club closed in May with the 18-hole layout to re-open in 2024 with just 12 holes following a major redevelopment of a seniors’ community.
Balgowlah Golf Club, also a popular nine-hole layout, has its future in limbo following reports the State Government was looking at closing it while improving roads in the area. It remains open despite rumours that its future is uncertain.
On a positive note for battle weary Northcote golfers, there have been ‘wins’ along the way in Sydney.
Warringah Golf Club was also under threat as Northern Beaches Council proposed turning the 18 holes into just nine holes so the back nine could be used for other sporting fields.
But a strong push from members and social golfers struck pay dirt when a new lease ensured one of Sydney’s busiest clubs would remain an 18-hole layout for at least the next 20 years.
And Marrickville Golf Club, just a stone’s throw from the home of new PM, Anthony Albanese, was granted a stay of proceedings after signing a new 21-year lease earlier this year, resisting a push to reduce it from 18 to nine holes to allow more picnic areas in Sydney’s inner-west.
But back to Northcote.
Under the council’s compromise solution, a 5.7-hectare portion on the edge of the course will also be shaved off and made into general park area, meaning that the course will need to be redesigned.
The decision comes after much argument and a period of public consultation over the site, with one residents’ group actively calling for the golf course to be closed altogether.
The Victorian Government has offered $200,000 towards a redesign of the site.
Darebin mayor Lina Messina describes the compromise as a ‘win-win’ situation.
But Northcote golf spokesman Bill Jennings says the golfers are exhausted from fighting the battle, and tired of compromise.
“We’re pleased that the nine holes appear to be assured,” he says. “And we’re optimistic that the mayor has put in a condition that the officers of the council prepare a business case for the viability of the model going forward.
“We look forward to that report on whether effectively splitting time between golfers and the rest of the community is actually viable.”
Jennings says the golfers would continue fighting the 3pm lock-out.
“We’ve genuinely tried to present a solution for everyone,” he said. “But our models were based on nine holes of golf, seven days a week and we don’t want to change that.”
Sutherland says: “Golf Australia is pleased that the Northcote golf course will be retained as a nine-hole facility.
“The diverse community of Darebin and surrounding areas deserves it. Golf is their passion and provides exercise, social activity and broader benefit to the community.
“Northcote is a public facility, open to anyone, and that is exactly what we want for the game in Australia: for it to be open, accessible and welcoming to everyone.”
We could not agree more.